What is so great about Winona?

Well let me tell you.

People drove all the way from the Twin Cities last week just to see what was going on at Winona’s levee thanks to a home run by Visit Winona.

That home run was attracting replicas of the Nina and the Pinta to our dock where they parked all week long. These are boats that have been all over the Western Hemisphere, boats so awesome, so exact in their design, that one has been used in a Hollywood movie about Columbus. And they came to Winona.

Here is what’s so great about that: For the Columbus Foundation, the company that runs the boats, Winona was one of their most successful destinations during a past tour, and that’s compared to ports even in enormous metropolitan areas that the boats visit. While they only stayed for a couple of days in places like Panama City, Florida, and Rochester, New York, they scheduled extra days to be here because Visit Winona literally told just about everyone in Minnesota that they were coming. And oh my gosh, did people come. There were thousands of people down at the levee last week, some just gawking, others opting for a tour of the vessels.

And here’s what’s so great about that: Winona has a beautiful park along its levee, aptly called Levee Park, with trees and benches and picnic tables and blooming flowers, but it’s a little gem I think even Winonans forget we have sometimes. For Winonans and visitors to town alike, a stroll through Levee Park to get to the boats undoubtedly left them admiring the pretty space and thinking it would be a nice place to while away a little time.

Out of town visitors had to have a moment of admiration for Winona during their visit, not just because of our beautiful levee, but because we had a nationwide attraction sitting at our dock, an attraction that was skipping a place like the Twin Cities so it could stop here for a little longer.

That, folks, is pretty cool.

I have to say this – I’ve lived here for almost 16 years and have watched as Winona underwent the transformation from an unheard of river town to a tourist destination. The visit by the Nina and the Pinta exemplifies how far we have come, and how hard work and vision can reinvent a community into a place that everyone has heard of and every community wants to be.

Vision. The Great River Shakespeare Festival, the Minnesota Beethoven Festival, the Frozen River Film Festival, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum… all have sprung to life during the past decade thanks to vision and the embrace of this city’s leaders, and today Winona is on the lips of people from hundreds of miles away. The Nina and the Pinta are just the latest brilliant tool to beckon the world to visit our little island city and see for themselves why people think this place is so great. And people came. In droves, even. And after lounging on our scenic levee for a spell I bet they could feel that greatness, and I have a feeling they’ll be back for more.

The Nina is an incredible replica of Columbus' ship

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